THE ARTS: Cafe for the Creme - Postcard from Budapest ; a Weekly Look at the Arts from around the Globe

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THE HUM of earnest conversation and the rustle of manuscripts across white marble table-tops drowns out the sound of the passing traffic outside.

White-aproned waiters scurry back and forth, bringing orders of coffee or that first eye-opener of the day.

Plumes of cigarette smoke swirl elegantly upwards, past the lithographs on the walls commemorating the cafe's 19th-century literary patrons.

It could be mistaken for a scene from the turn-of-the-century Habsburg Empire, where famous writers and poets gathered at their favourite cafes, while admirers and acolytes looked on adoringly, ready to discuss the latest masterpiece - which may well have been composed at the same table.

But this is not 19th-century Vienna, but the Central Kavehaz (coffeehouse) in post-millennial Budapest, the epicentre of a revival in the city's literary life.

Beautifully renovated and newly reopened in January, with tranquil, dark green walls and a huge glass front looking out on to buzzing downtown Pest, the Central is already returning to its historical role as a meeting place for writers and poets, both Hungarian and foreign.

"The lamps and the whole interior decoration, like the marble tables, sofas, billiard tables, the games room and the coffee kitchen... it is impossible to imagine anything more beautiful," wrote one regular patron of the cafe's 19th-century incarnation.

"The Central was the birthplace of modern Hungarian literature, where newspapers and literary journals were edited at the tables, which is a real characteristic of Budapest cultural life," according to Andras Torok, author of Budapest: A Critical Guide.

At the turn of the 19th century, Budapest boasted more than 300 cafes. They were a home-from-home for penurious creative types who could not afford to heat their tiny garrets, and so took themselves off whenever possible to somewhere warm and light.

Some even paid their bills by dashing off a quick caricature of the owner, while others used their favourite cafe as their office - and even had the waiters deliver their manuscripts to their editors.

Until recently, the site of the Central hosted a bagel bakery and an amusement arcade. …